Bhakti Caitanya Swami

(Richard Naismith)

Richard Naismith was born on August 14, 1951, in Auckland, New Zealand. He was the first child of a wealthy family, with Scottish roots. Richard’s father owned a large dry cleaning business. His mother, who had a master’s degree in music, worked as a music teacher before her marriage, and after she married, became a housewife.

When Richard was two years old he had a brother, who became the second and last child in the family.

Richard was educated in prestigious, private Anglican schools. He studied at King’s School from 1956 to 1964, and then at King’s College Auckland from 1965 to 1968.

At school, Richard was an average student, but excelled in sports. He was fond of surfing and was interested in modern music. The 1960s saw the heyday of the hippie movement and the philosophical aspect of pop music became very strongly developed. Richard liked artists such as Bob Dylan and The Beatles, and his favorite poet was Dylan Thomas.

From the age of five, Richard studied the Bible and regularly went to the Church of England.

At the age of 13, he began to think about the meaning of life, and at the age of 15 he felt disappointed “because of the hypocrisy of the whole system.” He was also disappointed in Christianity, as he could not find satisfactory answers to his questions in this religion. Richard didn’t understand why people were born in such different conditions, and why there were only two paths after death for completely different people — heaven or hell. These and many other questions constantly troubled him. Hoping to find answers to these questions, Richard decided to study philosophy, and after graduating from King’s College in 1968, he joined the faculty of philosophy at the university of Auckland.

In parallel with his studies, Richard was engaged in journalism, working part-time as a freelance journalist and assistant editor.

At university, Richard studied without much enthusiasm, believing that the education system was too “polluted by materialism.” He felt that none of this was what he was looking for.

The desire to become a writer was awakened in him — he believed that in literary work there was more opportunity for sincere self-expression through the description of life and commenting on the world around him.

While studying at the university, Richard first came into contact with Indian culture and Vaishnavism. This happened through the medium of music — after listening to the London-based Hare Krishnas and George Harrison produced album The Radha Krsna Temple — the first pop album of Sanskrit mantras in the history of music. The album featured the Hare Krishna mantra and other Vaishnava chants. Bhakti Caitanya Swami remembers: “I wasn’t a Krishna worshipper at the time, but I realized that since The Beatles were singing about it, it couldn’t be something bad as so many people thought. So in part, The Beatles helped me get on the path which I’ve been following ever since.”

In early 1972, American students Tushta Krishna dasa and Krishna Tulasi dasi, a married couple in the Krishna consciousness movement, arrived in Auckland from India. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada (Founder Acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness) gave them his blessings for the opening of the first Vaishnava Temple in New Zealand. They rented a small house in Auckland, built an altar there, and installed the marble deities of Radha-Krishna that they had brought from India.

On April 14, 1972, Srila Prabhupada flew to Auckland from Sydney. This was his first visit to New Zealand.

A preaching program was planned for each day of Srila Prabhupada’s stay in the country. On the day of his arrival in Auckland, Srila Prabhupada gave a lecture at the City Hall, on April 15, 1972, to the Hindu community, and on April 16 at the Auckland Art Gallery.

On the morning of April 17, Tushta Krishna dasa organized a press conference for the inauguration of the first Temple of the Krishna consciousness movement in New Zealand. A group of journalists gathered in Srila Prabhupada’s room with notebooks and microphones, and asked him a variety of questions. Immediately after the end of the press conference, Srila Prabhupada went with his students to the university of Auckland, where his lecture was scheduled. It was on this day that Richard had his first meeting with the Hare Krishnas and Srila Prabhupada.

I was walking with my friend on the campus towards the cafeteria. Suddenly we heard some music, a very unusual kind of music that we had never heard before. I looked to my right and suddenly saw Srila Prabhupada with a group of disciples 20 meters away. He seemed to me very peaceful and aristocratic. He walked with his head thrown back a little and looked around in a very gentle, serene manner. Three or four young girls in beautiful saris and a few young men with shaved heads danced gracefully in front of him. Some of the girls periodically threw rose petals at Srila Prabhupada's feet. This beautiful scene made a deep impression on us — it was as if they had all descended directly from the heavens. As we approached the crowded path at the edge of the courtyard, our paths crossed and Srila Prabhupada walked very slowly past us towards the low stage. It looked like he was about to start his lecture, so I decided to stay.

Bhakti Caitanya Swami

Srila Prabhupada sat down on a small stage in the immediate vicinity of the cafeteria, where the students were taking their lunch. There were about 50 people gathered around the stage besides Richard. Srila Prabhupada took the karatala and began to sing.

When Prabhupada sat down, I went closer, and looked at him more closely. He was dressed in beautiful silk robes of dark saffron color, which glistened as they reflected the glow of the midday sun. I was very impressed by Srila Prabhupada's presence. He was wearing a beautiful flower garland. He kept his eyes down a little, played the slow rhythm of "one, two, three" on the shiny karatala, and sang in a low and deep voice. He seemed to be in a calm and meditative state.

Bhakti Caitanya Swami

At the end of the long kirtan, Srila Prabhupada began to give a lecture in which he spoke on various philosophical topics. At the end of the lecture, Srila Prabhupada announced that the simplest method of spiritual awareness, which is recommended in the Vedic literature, is chanting the Hare Krishna mantra. As a result of this practice, the mind is purified and the person is able to understand that he is not a temporary material body, but an eternal spiritual soul. Only by realizing this can one get rid of the suffering caused by the scorching fire of material existence. After finishing the lecture, Srila Prabhupada conducted another kirtan and thereafter left the campus.

After the lecture, Richard decided to try to understand this teaching more deeply.

This was my first meeting with Srila Prabhupada, and the memory of it has remained with me forever. But it was only much later, many years after I became a disciple of Srila Prabhupada and received the name Raghubhir dasa, that I realized how important this first "chance" meeting was. I learned that it is contact with a pure devotee that causes bhakti, or devotional service, to take root in the heart. I was deeply impressed by how simply out of his pure desire to give Krsna consciousness to others, that Srila Prabhupada travelled so far and visited the most remote corner of the world —New Zealand. He came to the university just to give the students Krsna consciousness, and I happened to be one of those students.

Bhakti Caitanya Swami

The following day, April 18, an article appeared in The Auckland Herald describing the Temple’s inauguration ceremony the day before. Srila Prabhupada performed the Vedic fire sacrifice in the Temple. He performed the installation ceremony of the Radha-Krsna deities, to whom he gave the name Sri Sri Radha-Giridhari.

On April 19, Srila Prabhupada left New Zealand for Hong Kong, continuing his preaching tour.

After a while, some of Richard’s acquaintances became Hare Krishnas. Richard sometimes met with them, conversing on philosophical topics, and bought Vaishnava literature from them.

At the end of 1972, Richard went to England on a passenger ship. On the ship, he met a man who told him that “of all the spiritual groups, only one was serious — the Hare Krishnas.” After that, when Richard arrived in London, he decided to find and visit a Hare Krishna Temple. On the ship, Richard also met a girl who told him that her brother was very interested in Vaishnavism. After arriving in England in September 1972, Richard met with the girl’s brother, who began to actively preach to him. Richard began reading passages from Srila Prabhupada’s book The Source of Eternal Pleasure, which described the life of Krishna. In particular, he liked to recite the parts of the book that described the rasa-lila, the mystical dance of little Krishna with his beloved gopis (cowherd girls). He explained that during this dance, pure, spiritual love was exchanged between the gopis and Krishna. Richard was deeply impressed by all this, and he began chanting the Hare Krishna mantra, seriously considering making Vaishnavism a part of his life.

Richard soon visited a Vaishnava Temple, the Radha-Krishna Temple in London, for the first time. Founded in 1969, with the financial support of George Harrison, it was the first Temple of the Krishna consciousness movement in Europe. At this time, Richard deeply believed that some “higher power or personality” controls the events that occur in a person’s life, and when the Temple president turned out to be a distant relative, Richard took this as a sign from above and decided to stay for a while in the Temple as a guest. In the Temple, Richard became more familiar with Vaishnava philosophy, finding that it provided answers to many of the worldview questions he had.

On January 7, 1973, Richard moved to live in a London Temple and became a brahmachari.

The Temple had about 50 brahmacharis and the beautiful Radha-Krishna Deity Radha-Londonishvara,  installed by Srila Prabhupada in 1969.

The life of the Krishna monks was very ascetic. They followed a very strict schedule, attending daily morning and evening spiritual programs. The monks slept on the floor, 20 people in one room, and shared their clothes with one other.

Richard’s first service was washing pots in the kitchen and doing street kirtans, which the Hare Krishnas went out for at least four hours a day. Richard also drove the senior Vaishnavas by car, a service he enjoyed very much. He recalls that “the whole atmosphere was very incendiary.”

At that time, Shyamasundara dasa was in charge of ISKCON’s activities in the UK, but he did not come to London very often. Of the older Vaishnavas, Richard was most inspired by Revatinandana Swami. He was an American sannyasi who taught very melodious kirtans and gave inspiring lectures. Richard loved the way he explained Vaishnava philosophy. After meeting Revatinandana Swami, Richard was determined to accept sannyasa in the future.

Very soon, Richard started doing sankirtana – distributing Vaishnava literature and collecting donations. This became his main activity for the next three years. Bhakti Chaitanya Swami recalls that in this new service, he was particularly inspired by his leader Prabhavishnu dasa (now Prabhavishnu Swami), who was “an absolute and steadfast believer in the distribution of books — he went out on sankirtana under any circumstances and was always successful.”

  • In September 1973, Richard received spiritual initiation from Srila Prabhupada and received the name Raghubhir dasa. A year later, in 1974, he received a second, brahminical initiation at Bhaktivedanta Manor, the headquarters of the Krsna consciousness movement in the UK and one of the largest Vaishnava Temples in Europe, which had been donated to ISKCON by George Harrison.
  • In 1976, Raghubhir dasa was appointed one of the managers of Bhaktivedanta Manor, where he supervised the training of new Vaishnavas, served as treasurer and worked in the public relations department. He soon became head of the British branch of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (BBT). Under his leadership, the publishing house published more than 20 new books on Vaishnavism and Vedic culture with a circulation of several million copies. Records of Hindu mantras and Vaishnava bhajans were also released in huge numbers.
  • In January 1980, Jayatirtha Swami, who was then in charge of ISKCON activities in the UK and South Africa, sent Raghubhir dasa to preach in South Africa. In South Africa, Raghubhir dasa became the president of the Temple and agricultural community in Cato Ridge, KwaZulu-Natal. The community, which was located on 48 hectares of land, was acquired by the Hare Krishnas in 1977, becoming the first ISKCON property in South Africa. On the site there was an old hangar for agricultural machinery upon which a Temple with an area of 100 square meters was built.

A year before Raghubhir dasa’s arrival in 1979, the Deities of Lord Caitanya and Lord Nityananda, Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurahari, were installed in the Temple.

  • From March 1982 to June 1985, along with two other Vaishnavas, Raghubhir dasa oversaw the construction of the Radha-Radhanatha temple in Durban.
  • From 1985 to 1987, he served as president of the ISKCON Temple in Johannesburg, and from 1987 to 1991; he headed the Yeoville preaching center and was president of the Durban Temple.
    Since 1991, Raghubhir dasa has been actively traveling and preaching Gaudiya Vaishnavism all over the world.
  • In 1993, he visited Russia for the first time. At the same time, he began to take an active part in ISKCON’s educational programs, teaching Gaudiya Vaishnava theology at the Vaishnava Institute of Higher Education in Vrindavan (Uttar Pradesh, India).
  • During the 1994 Gaura Purnima Festival in Mayapur, he took sannyasa from Giriraja Swami; receiving the new name Bhakti Caitanya Swami.
  • In 1998, Bhakti Caitanya Swami was appointed to the Governing Body Commission (GBC) of ISKCON, the collective governing body of the Krishna consciousness movement. He began overseeing the movement’s activities in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania (with Niranjana Swami) and in Siberia (with Bhaktivaibhava Swami and Prabhavishnu Swami).
  • Since 1999, he has also led ISKCON activities in a number of African countries: South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Malawi, Angola, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zambia; and since 2001 in the North-Western region of Russia; St. Petersburg, Murmansk and Arkhangelsk.
  • In 2003 Bhakti Caitanya Swami was elected chairman of the GBC for a one-year term.
  • In 2009, together with Bhakti Bringa Govinda Swami, he began directing ISKCON activities in Mauritius. Furthermore, as of 2009, Bhakti Caitanya Swami became a member of the ISKCON sannyasa ministry, the ISKCON Guru committee, and the ISKCON leadership council appointment committee.